July 21, 2018 | ° F

U. LHSC department needed to teach, enlighten students

Cloudy with a Chance of Controversy

Graduation is eighteen days away. I will receive my Bachelor of Arts in Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies (LHCS), and I will leave the department that helped me grow, learn, care, heal and love in ways that no other department could have done. Yet, I am leaving in a time when our department is being threatened. Will they combine our department with Africana Studies, Comparative Literature, AMESOL and Women & Gender Studies, and call this conglomeration Ethnic Studies? Will they reduce our resources or our funding? Will they eventually move our department off of the New Brunswick campus, so that this branch of Rutgers can focus more on business and STEM fields, the money-makers? Due to the uncertainty surrounding the department that I grew to love so much, I decided to write about my experiences with this department in the hope that more people will realize why these departments are so necessary.

LHCS can be found on Livingston Campus, the campus once known for student activism, primarily by black and Latino students, but now known for its great dining hall and the fancy business school building. In the 1960s, 16 Equal Opportunity Fund (EOF) students fought for the creation of the program, which would cater to their culture and history. A section of Lucy Stone Hall (LSH) became theirs, and to this day, the murals that they painted still stand.

LHCS offers a wide range of courses, from introductory classes, to history and literature courses, to courses that are relevant to surviving in the United States today, such as Latinos and Race, Latinos and Migration and Youth Activism. Every single class teaches students how to think critically about the world we live in today, and the professors are open to feedback. The department was created by the students and for the students — meaning the department’s faculty and staff are always open to hearing how they can improve their courses.

Of course, the great work that they do can only be continued if students realize the importance of these kinds of majors. Sadly, we live in a world where people think that a college major needs to directly correlate with a career. When I tell people that I am majoring in LHCS, their response is, “Oh, what can you do with that?” Because it is an interdisciplinary major, we can do just about anything. We could start a business, go into politics or education, go to law school and the list goes on. The options are open because LHCS and majors in similar areas are not trained in one specific area. Instead, we were taught how to read, think and write, which are skills that can and need to be used in every single career.

While the history and courses of the department are great, the department would not be anything without the amazing staff and faculty. The department chair, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, single-handedly convinced me to major in LHCS. I am not sure how many students are able to form great relationships with their department chair, but because the professionals in this department care so much about their students, it is easy to get to know them. I have gotten to meet so many great professors that truly take the time to check up on students: Yomaira Figueroa, who left after being offered a position at Michigan State University, Carlos Decena, who consistently worked around students’ concerns, and Samuel Bañales, who has had one of the most significant impacts on the way I think. These are just to name a few of the professors who have not only impacted my college career, but will continue to impact my life in various ways for years to come. I would not be where I am today if it were not for these amazing people, and as I graduate, I am not only celebrating my own accomplishments, but am also thanking them for their guidance and support.

Graduation is eighteen days away, and as I reflect on my four years at Rutgers, I know that I made the right decision when I decided, sophomore year, to turn my LHCS minor into a major. I am not sad to leave Rutgers, but I am sad to leave the department that helped shape me into the “radical” and critical student that I am now. As I prepare to leave, I can only hope that other students will get involved with the department, and that Rutgers makes the decision to stop cutting our resources in favor of STEM. Then again, if we were able to create a department that has lasted over forty years by the force of sixteen students, who is to say we cannot continue to thrive under an administration that devalues our history and culture? And with that, as always, “pa’lante, siempre, pa’lante.”

Kenya O’Neill is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in planning and public policy and Latin and Hispanic Caribbean studies with a minor in Spanish. Her column “Cloudy with a Chance of Controversy,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.

Kenya O'Neill

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